phil the fire

The first time I was offered chicken and waffles I politely declined. Silly me. Hey,  was 10 years ago – what did I know (though truthfully, I still don’t know much…).

Soon I wised up and realized this combination was pure genious. And like many of you, discovered Phil the Fire and was quickly smitten. But Phil went away for the better part of a decade – that is, until he recently reopened and is looking to make a comeback on the east side.

We went recently on behalf of Metromix. Here’s part of my review, or you can read the full thing here.

Sadly, restaurants often fail. One common fault is lack of awareness, attention and repetitive business. When Phil The Fire closed roughly seven years ago, it wasn’t a result of any of these factors, but rather some poor financial mishandlings and bad business deals. So when word spread that this well-liked restaurant was about to resurface in Beachwood inside the Fairfield Inn, Clevelanders’ mouths collectively watered for some of those locally-famous chicken and waffles.

Food: Fans of previous locations will surely recognize many of the extensive menu’s offerings, dubbed comfort food for the soul. Pages of Southern favorites, all reasonably priced and generously sized, are ready to comfort you, especially this time of the year. But it’s one dish in particular that is the most sought-after: chicken and waffles.

Complete with an 11-step guide to enjoying, this dish ($11-$20 depending on whether you order a breast to a half chicken) conjures up smiles from anyone that has tried it. While not necessarily a dish that would win any plating points on Iron Chef, this dish is just that: chicken served alongside a waffle, a thick, cinnamon-spiced Belgium waffle to be exact. And the chicken is fried to perfection (or grilled—but at this point, just go for it; you can also opt for fish and waffles), served with cinnamon butter and housemade syrup. This is their signature dish and for good reason. This is the ultimate combination of sweet and savory and one that will turn skeptics into devotees. It’s a must-try dish and worth the trip regardless of location.

Unfortunately, other options fell short of expectations. Aside from the oversized signature cornbread muffin and aforementioned waffles, other dishes did not impress. The three cheese mac and cheese ($7 when ordered alone) was served cold, which really affected the taste and texture; the collard greens ($6 when ordered alone) were over salted leaving them inedible and the half pound of butterfly shrimp ($18) also suffered from overseasoning (note: two sides accompany most dinners). An order of the signature fried green tomatoes appetizer with fried corn was a nicely spiced dished with a touch of heat that was one of the better items we tried, though unfortunately, it was also served cold and came out after our dinners.

Décor: The resurrected restaurant resides in a former Houlihan’s and much of the layout stayed the same: oversized booths make up the bulk of the space overlooking a partially-open kitchen with plenty of rich woods, warm lighting and brick to reinforce the “fire” theme.

Service: As probably deciphered from the food review, service can be painfully slow, forgetfully and not in sync with the kitchen. A near 25-minute wait before we were greeted by a server (albeit a super friendly and apologetic server), appetizers came post dinner and most dishes were served at the wrong temp.

Bottom line: While the restaurant undoubtedly has kinks to work out, their signature draw of chicken and waffles has (luckily) remained unchanged and still as good as we remember—maybe even a bit better.



  1. Posted October 13, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    …On March 14 and March 29, 2003, Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield, Oberlin College class of ‘73, executed two $20,000 promissory notes to Phil B. Davis, Phil the Fire’s flamboyant proprietor, at prime plus 200 basis points, collateralized by an equity stake in Phil the Fire. Mr. Davis, a former deodorant salesman, failed to make a single payment on the bargain-rate loans. On October 31, 2003, the well-heeled ice cream czar and the wannabe waffle king consummated a Halloween wing-and-a-prayer loan consolidation through a $100,000 line of credit issued by Shore Bank. Mr. Davis subsequently defaulted on every facet of the original loans.

    According to Cuyahoga County Court records, Phil the Fire’s tax returns, prepared by leading public accounting firm SS & G, show a loss of nearly $50,000 in 2002. In an amended July 19, 2004, brief attached to the extensive litigation spawned by Phil the Fire’s demise, Phil B. Davis declares on line #93, “Defendant never claimed that the operations of Phil the Fire on Shaker Square had yielded a profit after its first year of operations.” The Ohio Department of Taxation affixed eight liens totaling $69,555.63 to Phil the Fire’s Shaker Square carcass. The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation weighed in with unpaid claims of $7,265.37.

    Mr. Davis’ Shaker Square operation inherited the retail storefront formerly occupied by Hungarian strudel purveyor Lucy’s Sweet Surrender, a 49-year Buckeye neighborhood fixture employing a bevy of elderly, veteran strudel kneaders. On assuming the balance of Lucy’s ten-year lease, Mr. Davis seized $75,000 in specialized bakery equipment belonging to Lucy’s proprietor Michael Feigenbaum. Lucy’s never fully recovered and, according to Mr. Feigenbaum’s Hotel Bruce web posting, is “living on fumes.”

    On Sunday, March 26, 2006, the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a front-page expose detailing the implosion of both the Shaker Square and downtown Phil the Fire and Waterhouse Restaurants, established with the financial backing of fugitive Atlanta hedge fund manager Kirk Wright. I, not any member of this body [Oberlin City Council], was the original source for that story.

    Wanted on state and federal mail and securities fraud warrants for allegedly absconding with $185 million in investor assets, Wright targeted novice minority investors, particularly professional athletes with significant discretionary income. Equipped, according to the New York Post, with “a materialistic streak that would make Madonna blush,” Wright’s illicitly acquired auto collection included a Bentley, a Jaguar, an Aston Martin, a BMW and a Lamborghini. A March 9, 2006, Wall Street Journal article reported Mr. Wright’s financial seductions occurred in “suites he rented at Atlanta Falcon football games.” Since February 2002, SCA’s financial patron, Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank, has owned the Atlanta Falcons. According to Phil B. Davis’ Cuyahoga County court filings, Davis “met twice with Wright in Plaintiff’s Atlanta office.”

    In a short, tumultuous five-month life-span, Phil the Fire’s illiquid downtown Cleveland gravy train racked up well in excess of a million dollars in unpaid debts and forfeitures — including over $15,000 in Ohio workers compensation liens — was on a C.O.D. basis with vendors and, according to Phil Davis’ July 28, 2004, court filings, had a chronic negative cash flow. Channel 19 reporter Scott Taylor ran an investigative piece broadcast March 14, 2004, on Phil the Fire Gateway’s imminent meltdown. On March 23, 2004, the IRS slapped a $226,259 tax lien on Phil the Fire for failure to pay federal withholding taxes. On April 15, 2004, Phil the Fire employees picketed outside the swank downtown eatery to protest their untendered paychecks. Although Phil Davis’ initial capital contribution to the Gateway Phil the Fire restaurant was a nominal $100, as set forth in the operating agreement, Mr. Davis retained a 60% ownership stake. On March 31, 2004, as the downtown Phil the Fire hemorrhaged cash and the chickens came home to roost, Mr. Davis borrowed $20,000, via a promissory note, from Phil the Fire’s talented chef, Alexander Daniels. Despite receiving $50,000 from Mr. Wright on April 26, 2004, in an impetuous, global out-of-court settlement, Mr. Davis defaulted on the bulk ($15,000) of Mr. Daniels’ unsecured loan and a contracted $11,000 culinary consultant’s fee…

  2. Posted October 13, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    We visited Phil the Fire with a group and had a similar experience to yours. Some of the food was excellent, but most of it was served cold or incomplete. Service was an abomination.

    After both Phil Davis and a manager who greeted our group told us we’d be comped a dessert sample, not only did the “house” dessert never appear, but it took over an hour for the server (with the help of a manager) to produce checks after the meal was over. You read that correctly. It took one full hour after the last bite of the [purchased] desserts was consumed before anyone got their check, and that was with a complaint to management that it was taking too long.

  3. kakaty
    Posted October 14, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I’ve visted Phil the Fire 3 times since it’s very close to my office. The 1st time the food was heaven on a plate (everyone orderd the chicken and waffles), and service was – as you said, painfully slow. Nice, apologetic but SLOW. It was their 1st week so we cut them some slack.

    2nd visit, this time taking my husband who had heard me rave about the food, was awful. Slow, spotty service (drinks never refilled, no silverware, etc) and both of our dishes had small, dry chicken with a soggy coating. I emailed a complaint to management and never heard back.

    3rd visit(on someone else’s dime) had better food but still poor service. And 3 things we ordered weren’t avaliable.

    If you go, sick with their signature chicken and waffles (which really are amazing) and allow yourself enough time to deal with the slow service.

  4. Posted October 19, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I just found your site, awesome resource! I’ll need to definitely try and visit some of the places you review that I haven’t been to yet. :)